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Fairfax to Build Editorial Centres of Expertise

30 June 2008

Press release

Paul Thompson, Group Executive Editor

Fairfax Media to Build Editorial Centres of Expertise

Fairfax Media, New Zealand's largest media company, has today announced plans to create national centres of expertise to carry out sub-editing, layout and page production for all features, world and business pages for its nine daily newspapers.

Announcing the proposal, Fairfax Media Group Executive Editor Paul Thompson said the autonomy and individuality of the company's newspapers would not be affected, and editors would remain in control of everything printed in their newspapers.

The subbing and layout of local and sports pages will remain the responsibility of editors and sub-editors within each masthead.

Mr Thompson said the announcement had been brought forward from a planned announcement time of 4pm on Wednesday, July 2, because information about the proposal intended for staff had been inadvertently published on the intranet through human error, for which the company apologised.

"Feature pages and world and business pages require an expertise that is not always available at individual newspapers and, through this proposal, we can ensure that all our readers will have the same consistent standard of editing excellence," Mr Thompson said.

Newspapers would retain their own individual looks, and their local emphasis.

The move follows the near-completion of installing the Atex Genera editorial production system across all Fairfax Media newspapers, a process started about two years ago.

After consulting with staff, the intention is to create the centres of expertise under the direction of a Managing Editor Production. It is envisaged features production will be spread across Wellington and Christchurch, world news will be located in Christchurch and business news in Wellington.

After today's announcement, a consultation period will begin, seeking staff feedback. If the proposal proceeds, some staff will be redeployed to the centres of expertise while others will remain with their papers.

Mr Thompson said some redundancies were likely but no firm numbers could be predicted until after the consultation period. Over the group, the newspapers involved have about 190 sub-editing staff and initial predictions indicated there could be about 40 redundancies. But until likely workloads and actual numbers were accurately determined, it was not possible to give firm numbers.

"Sub-editors are a hugely valuable part of our newspapers and websites. They are responsible for quality and are our last line of defence against errors," Mr Thompson said. "We need the best sub-editors.

"Following today's announcement and the distribution of information about this proposal to all relevant staff, it is our intention to enter into consultation, led by individual editors, with staff about our proposal. These discussions will take some weeks, and it is not till they are concluded that we will know the effect this will have on staffing.

"While the centres are based in Wellington and Christchurch, sub-editors from other centres will be encouraged to apply because with the Genera technology, they can work from anywhere, even from at home.

"Through this change, we will be offering our sub-editors further training and more advanced career paths. We see this as a positive move. It is not out-sourcing."

Nevertheless, as with any business, there was a commercial imperative. The newspaper industry was undergoing huge change and Fairfax had to ensure its processes were as efficient as possible.

"Much of an editor's time is taken up with production issues and this change means that editors will be able to spend more time on content that their readers want," Mr Thompson said.

Fairfax would also be looking to have more generic non-news pages such as TV and the weather undertaken by providers for the whole group.

"Such tasks are time-consuming and often monotonous, and it makes sense to have such tasks performed at one place," Mr Thompson said.

"The most important aspect of this proposal is that control of all pages is retained at local sites, overseen by editors.

"This initiative is part of the ongoing process of shaping our newspaper operations to continue to compete effectively in a future environment facing ever-increasing competition from online news and information sites."

All Fairfax Media daily newspaper remained strong and stable, and Fairfax believed its newspapers, allied with its family of websites, had an exciting future.

"Ultimately, it is quality content that will deliver future success, and part of this process will involve a huge emphasis on lifting local content in all our publications to meet the needs of readers and to make us more compelling," Mr Thompson said.

"Our proposal will involve changes at all newspapers, some to a greater extent than others. However, it is through making those changes that we place each newspaper in a better position to ensure its long term future."

The changes planned will be introduced over the next few months following consultation with staff.

The newspapers involved are the morning newspapers, The Dominion Post, The Press, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald and The Southland Times and the evening Waikato Times, Manawatu Standard, Nelson Mail and Marlborough Express.

Mr Thompson also announced the company would be reviewing two other aspects of its business. Sub-editing processes and staffing at Fairfax Sundays and the Independent would be examined to see what gains could be made by shifting the editorial production of the business weekly and the business section of the Sunday Star Times to the new business centre of expertise.

The review will include a study of a proposal to merge the two subberies of the Sunday Star Times and Sunday News into one integrated team under a single production editor.

As well, the company wanted to review the subbing processes of Suburban Newspapers in Auckland. The company envisaged Suburbans would continue as a stand-alone combined subbery but it would be reviewing future productivity requirements including staff numbers and work outputs.


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